Gatwick air traffic control tower could soon be relying on a very different air traffic control system

Roke announces role in new air traffic control project

Roke Manor Research Ltd has announced it has been selected to help test a pioneering new air traffic management system.

The Chemring Group company along with Thales and NATS, have been selected to support the Technology Strategy Board's Highly Innovative Technology Enablers for Aerospace (HITEA).

The 24-month programme will demonstrate the suitability of a new type of air traffic control radar called Multi-Static Primary Surveillance Radar (MSPSR), that uses existing digital TV signals, as a replacement for traditional, costly Primary Surveillance Radars (PSR).

The system works by having a number of ground stations that receive the same TV signal, but each receives the signal at a slightly different time because of the reflections and interactions with aircraft flying in their vicinity.

The received signals are then compared to the original broadcast, and the difference is used to triangulate the position of the aircraft.

Marion Broughton, head of Thales UK’s aerospace business, said: “Although in its infancy, this innovative application of new technology could reshape the way that air traffic is managed in the future. This is a good example of how government and industry can work together, share expertise, and sustain innovation and high-technology research within the UK”.

On top of the financial benefits the new system will free up valuable spectrum for other uses, such as mobile phone technology, and it is also resilient to interference caused by wind turbines, which could lead to an improvement of air traffic surveillance performance in the areas where large wind turbines are being deployed.

Roke’s role will be to support NATS in the development of the MSPSR system requirements, assessment of the system design and in an independent verification and validation of the MSPSR system performance.

Simon Atkinson, Roke’s business sector manager for air transport, said: "Many air navigation service providers are hoping that MSPSR is a cost-saving alternative to replace the expensive primary surveillance radar systems currently being used.

“Furthermore, as there is an increasing demand for the use of the electromagnetic spectrum, the current frequency allocations for PSR are coming under threat. MSPSR could be the answer to freeing up valuable spectrum and herald the first major revolution in radar since its use by the British during World War Two."

He added: “The Technology Strategy's Board's decision to appoint Roke, teamed with Thales and NATS, is testament to our continual commitment to develop the most innovative technologies while delivering excellent customer service.

“Our two partners share this ethos and we look forward to working with them to deliver an effective new approach to the way that air traffic is managed in the future."

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